Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Argument of Romans 5-8

Wow, this has been a fruitful month of writing. This is the beginning of a sketch for a paper -- feedback will be appreciated. Otherwise, enjoy!

Following and building upon the work of Stanley Stowers, I see Romans 5-8 as a component of the full diatribe structure of Paul's address to the Romans. Having demonstrated in Romans 1-4 that the justice of God does not depend on God's judgment according to deeds, or therefore upon Torah, but instead upon the trust that stands prior to action, Paul now leads the audience through the relationship between sin and the law. Much of Paul's argument depends on reversing the logical inversion by which Torah as a system of deeds has come to stand prior to the relationship between God and God's people. This has an analogue in the various conceptions of the ordo salutis settled upon in the wake of the post-Reformation period of Protestant orthodoxy. Whether Lutheran, Calvinist or Arminian, these procedural views of salvation inevitably assign repentance, and therefore human right behavior, a crucial role early in the process. However theologically justified in terms of divine, rather than human, action, this has the function of making right behavior a distinguishing mark throughout the process.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Jacob have I loved, and Esau...

I would so rather work with the texts that follow this week's ... and they aren't next week's texts, so I get to lean into them just a little.

Jacob is afraid. It would seem that Esau, his brother, is in quite good company -- a company of 400 men. Esau, out in the world, without his birthright, has not done badly for himself. One might say, even, that God has not done badly by Esau, for all that we are tempted to remember the words spoken through the prophet Malachi: "I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau." For Esau, too, is blessed, and has married the daughters of his uncle Ishmael, a man who is likewise blessed by God. Esau's children are the reconciliation of two brothers, the sons of Abraham. And Esau, just like his father-in-law, receives good from God for all he has lost to his brother. And so Jacob will find, waiting for him, the goodness of God -- seen in the generous face of his brother, who has every earthly right to hate him, and no earthly reason to. But Jacob doesn't know this. And so he is afraid. He is afraid that his brother is coming to get him.

You see, God has also provided quite well for Jacob. But reading the story up to this point, we're tempted to say that Jacob has done quite well for himself, mostly at the expense of Laban. A contest of schemes and strategies. But the contest between these men and their households is also a contest between Jacob's God and his ancestral gods. (And obviously, someone hasn't read Malachi -- the takeaway here seems to be "I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Laban.") Jacob, the master strategist, knows how very insecure his world is. He took all that he has from one man; another man could take it all from him, even his life. That man, his brother, has a right by birth to stand exactly where Jacob stands. "There but for the grace of God..."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Keys to Approaching Barth's Doctrine of Creation

It's becoming increasingly clear to me, at this point, that the dissertation won't just involve Barth -- he's taking over. The topic remains apocalyptic eschatology of creation, which I got from a certain reading of III.1 in the first place. The keys remain 1) theology (including that found in scripture) as oral performative rhetoric; and 2) storytelling as the basis for the given theological approaches of any particular writing. I'm attempting not to fall foul of Derrida here -- I don't intend to read the narrative against its supposed history, but through it as part of the text. Il n'y a pas de hors-texte. Apocalyptic storytelling appears in our scriptural texts as a result of the situation of the community telling the story, against the situation of the world against them. It is not a product of the comfortable or the assimilating, but of those who refuse to be digested. (Unfortunately it also becomes a tool of those assimilated to power, against those who will not.) It is a means of survival by incisive use of history.

And yet, as I say, Barth is quickly expanding to become the major topic, and this the critical proposal drawn out of his reconstructed work on creation. Reconstructed, on the one hand, to deal better with the Jews who remain Jews as authors and characters in our scriptures, and on the other, to deal better with the Jews who remain Judean and stubbornly resistant to persecution outside of the coming Christian world. From that, to deal better with our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters as people with legitimate claims to the God of our fathers. And so the first key to Barth's doctrine of creation is to understand his scriptural hermeneutic at work, and to determine its extent and relationships of dependency within the whole of CD III. And the second is to examine its impact on the form and content of his pervasive Trinitarian assertions throughout.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Opening Moves and Playing the Game

After the recent conversation on universalism and eschatology at Two Friars and a Fool, it's interesting to see Richard Beck post an entry about the relevance of opening moves and knowing that you're playing a particular variation.
If you haven't noticed, people disagree a lot about religion. And sometimes those disagreements get nasty. Recently, however, in my discussions with Dr. Kirk about universalism, many have commended us on the civil and curious tone of the conversation. Why has this been the case?

I think it has to do with the fact that we're aware that we are playing different opening moves. Dr. Kirk is playing 1. e4 and I'm playing 1. Nf3. Neither is right or wrong per se. One is more traditional and orthodox. The other is less common and heterodox. Each has strengths. Each has weaknesses. But after the moves have been played we can sit back and enjoy the artistry of how the game unfolds from those starting points. For each chess opening has its own interior logic. And lots of hidden surprises.

In short, it's fun to watch how people play the game. And you learn a lot from watching.
And I think a big part of this logic comes from the implicit observation that he and J. R. D. Kirk are each playing white in different games, and comparing openings rather than playing against each other. But more than that, as someone who talks about "games" and "play" as serious terms for the activity of theology, I love the image and how extensible it is.

Providential Implications for Natural Law

All right, following yesterday's meditations on section 56.1 of the Church Dogmatics, linked in the title, I have some meditations on the implications for natural law. (At least in part because I've been reading Biggar's Behaving in Public, and as a result of the recent Barth-Aquinas conversations at PTS.)

So, implications of "the unique opportunity" (and my following thereupon) for natural law:

A) The world is fallen, not just human being.
B) The orders of all things in the world are dis-ordered from the creation-ordering, as the scriptural views of the mountain of the Lord as the peaceable kingdom suggest. (Even if it is simply an attempt at answering the theodicy question.)
C) Providence remains.
D) But providence is not a created remnant of order -- it is a function of God's own ongoing creative and redemptive salvific work. Salvation as salvage.
E) The order in which we find the world is not "natural" as though we meant by that "original to the act of creation." [As my wife asked, yes, even trees are fallen. I don't mind Lewis on this point.] The parts are natural; the order is not.
F) No components of the world are by nature evil or false or wrong. All things in the ongoing creation are essentially good, if existentially disordered.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Unique Opportunity

I've been driven back to CD III.4, section 56, entitled "Freedom in Limitation," by re-reading my old exam work. And fruitfully so, I think, so I'm going to run through my meditations on at least part 1 here: "The Unique Opportunity." This material is the set-up for talking about vocation in the next part.

Our obedience -- even and especially our apostolic obedience -- is conditioned on the restoration of the right ordering of our creaturely being. We are disordered in sin, pieces in the wrong places, functional blocks improperly connected to one another, inputs and outputs not communicating properly.

Barth's strategy is not to take the disorder of the world's order and call it good, let alone to call it God's -- this is the sort of approach that leads to Barth's statement that ethics is sin. No, it is not the order we find in creation-the-noun that shows us the will of God; it is the order we find in creation-the-verb. Creation, the act. The creature who receives the divine command discovers because of it an impossibility -- a flaw with respect to the totalizing orders of the world. A basic contradiction at the heart of reality. And it seems to be this because we participate every day in the demiourgia by which the orders of this world perpetuate themselves. We have been raised in them, and by acting as agents under them we demonstrate that we approve of them -- whether or not we like their consequences! We help to craft and re-craft them.

This is the depravity of the creature -- that we are apparatchiki of the world, shaped by its apparatus. As Billington said, people "not of grand plans, but of a hundred carefully executed details." This is the root cause of the declaration that God came to what was his own, but it did not know him. We belong to the world.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Shape and Substance of our Adoption

Given this coming Sunday's readings, I'm going to play Matthew's scribe: "Every scribe enrolled in the kingdom of the heavens is like a human steward of a house, who puts forth from his stores what is fresh and what has aged; the new along with the esteemed." (13:52)  But I'm going to play him as Paul.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Weeds and the Wheat

The lectionary portions from Matthew 13 have been bothering me.  Most especially when we try to take the some-and-not-others emphasis that is so profoundly expressed in the glosses of the parables, and assert it upon our world.  So here's a counterproposal from last Sunday.  It's not a sermon -- it has too much of law in it to be proclamation.  But perhaps it may be taken as a prescription for a certain kind of malady.

Why should we take Matthew's explanations at their word?  On the other hand, why not?  Are the darnels evil?  Is God's victory found in their destruction -- that the kingdom of the heavens shall be pure?  That only the good and desirable in this life shall enter?

Then boy, are we in trouble!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Not the post on Bible...

It may not be clear from the last post, but the goal of this process is a matter of wrestling with Barth and the rest of my necessary knowledge of faith and theology in order to produce something useful.  Gaining, on the one hand, a clear grasp of Barth in his own logic, and on the other a clear grasp of the extent of my necessary disagreement with him, in order to have a basis for realigning that in Barth which must be said into an order in which I may say it today.

For quite some time, I feel like I have been implicitly doing what Nigel Biggar suggests he had done in The Hastening That Waits: attempting to say what Barth should have said, as though he did actually say it.  That won't fly in my dissertation.  Proper exposition, productive disagreement, and clear and explicit adaptation are both more intellectually honest and more likely to do something useful in the field.  No place better to start than here.

On the other hand, this also isn't the post on the Judean logic of scripture that was coming next.  That is far too long and involuted, and keeps moving as I keep trying to write it again.  I've written the blessed thing four times now!  I can't keep the edges from curling in and obscuring the axis of the argument.  But: Paul's perspective isn't simply of chronological importance; he is irreducibly different in perspective from the gospel writers and what follows them.  And the difference is history -- Paul's worldview, the worldview of the Synoptics, and John's worldview are three different things, because of the events they use to interpret the meaning of the promises of God.  Very different apocalypticisms.

Anyhow, having this disagreement with Barth has started to boil down to doctrine-of-scripture differences.  Not coincidentally, this is what I told my adviser I planned to work on when I entered the program.  :)  I seem to have simply come at it the long way 'round.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Creation, order, and world -- and far too much reliance on John 1

It's good to get feedback here.  Even and especially when it disagrees with me.  I get to iterate over ideas and throw out the ones that don't work.  And occasionally, like last week's argument with David over the trinity, it compels me to go back and do my constructive work over again and make it tighter.  Unfortunately, I did it offline.  Which means now I have to go through and post up the pieces of it that now make sense.  Given that the base disagreement seems to have something to do with what Barth says (and therefore what a Barthian can say), I'm starting from the middle, with the rereading of the opening of III.1.  And there's some really cool stuff, and some really ugly stuff.

Starting with the cool stuff.  Section 40, pp. 16-17 and 19-22, the small print sections.  What is the world?  kosmos = ktisis + demiourgia.  The world as world is ordered creation.  And yet eschatology speaks of the katabole kosmou -- the destruction of the world, yes, but more properly its disordering.  This is not the undoing of creation; it is the undoing of the ordering by which the creation has become this particular world.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Nature itself becomes the theatre of grace"

"Neither the work of the Son nor that of the Holy Spirit is understandable if we fail to recognize the miraculous element which accompanies these events, or if we try to conjure away the miracle as such.  Again this does not mean that God ceases to be true to Himself, the Creator and Lord of this world.  But how can the divine work take place, in which God causes His preserving grace to triumph over man's opposition, without a perception by man of the divine opposition as such?  How can grace meet him as grace if it simply decks itself out as nature, if nature as such is grace?  Grace is the secret behind nature, the hidden meaning of nature.  When grace is revealed, nature does not cease to exist.  How can it, when God does not cease to be its Creator?  But there is in nature more than nature.  Nature itself becomes the theatre of grace, and grace is manifested as lordship over nature, and therefore in freedom over against it.  And again God is not less but more glorious for us in miracle than elsewhere.  Again miracle is simply the revelation of the divine glory otherwise hidden from us, on the strength of which we can believe and honour Him elsewhere as Creator and Lord.  Miracle must not be reduced to the level of God's other and general being and action in the world.  Its miraculous nature must not be denied.  It must be maintained -- even for the sake of the general truth.  For it is miracle alone which opens for us the door to the secret that the Creator's saving opposition to us does not confront us only at individual points and moments, but throughout the whole range of our spatio-temporal existence."  CD II.1, p. 509 (section 31.2)
Sittler, anyone?  I ran across this reference in Matt Rose, Ethics with Barth, and was immediately reminded of another theologian of my acquaintance who says that nature is the theater of grace.  Rose's footnote isn't right on the standard page numbering, but Google Books is excellent for tracking down citations that aren't where you've been told they were.

Both Joseph Sittler and Karl Barth before him are using this phrase to answer the question of the relationship between nature and grace -- I need to dig into Essays on Nature and Grace and look for congruencies of thought here.  This phrase becomes a key article of Sittler's thought.  The phrase isn't new, by any means, but it's not exactly common, either.  The thought lines up with Aquinas' treatment of nature and grace, as well.  But it struck me to see this phrase in Barth's "hand" as an answer to the problem.

(That's all -- nothing more, for now.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Why it bugs me, and why I don't think I can use it

"It" being McCormack's (Levering's (Aquinas')) synthetic suggestion that the moment of divine procession, as the mutual self-creation of the Father and the Son, is simultaneously the creation of the creation as the missional object of the procession of the Son (and Spirit likewise).  It's been niggling at the edge of my brain since the first day of lectures, almost two weeks ago, at the Barth conference.  Very elegant, useful as a solution to the philosophical objections of theodicy based on choice of this world over some other, perhaps necessary if one wants to fight "voluntarism" and the play of freedom and necessity in the act of creation, as McCormack expressed that he does.

Races I'm not running in.

To begin with, God here is immutable, or not far from it.  We have let in only those changes necessary to define the being of God as we have come to understand it, exported them back to the beginning of all that is, and locked them down.  This is not what John 1 means to do.  This is not the meaning of the identification of the kaine ktisis with the bereshit bara of Genesis.  Unless, of course, you take it to be a propositional truth claim rather than story.  The truth of story is deeper than the surface of the narrative -- it runs downward to the function of the narrative.

So I have two basic problems, one with the implications for the nature of God, and one with the interaction of this idea with the story-logic of creation narratives.  We'll start with the nature of God and work out to narrative.